The House Judiciary Committee played host to a packed house this afternoon when representatives from many non-profit organizations from across Kansas showed up in droves to oppose HB 2188. This bill concerns the open records act, and amends K.S.A. 2012 Supp. 45-240, and repeals an existing section.
The bill can be found here:
Kansas Farmers Union’s position is that public dollars received in grants are already extremely well-reported in regards to expenses, and HB 2188 looks like nothing more than government trying to nit-pick non-profits to death and put targets on those whom some disagree with. As a non-profit, this would affect KFU negatively in many different ways, and it could also affect many other agricultural organizations that operate under a non-profit status.
There were two questions I posed before the committee:
1.) Does this bill also cover federal grants received in Kansas?
2.) If this bill passes, does that mean all check-off dollars (which are public funds raised by a production tax) also have to operate under the same requirements?
The only answer I have at this point in time is to Question #1, and the answer is “Yes.” I hope to have an answer on Question #2 soon, and will post an update when I find out.
Back to the bill itself. HB 2188 was sponsored by Rep. Steve Brunk of Wichita. Brunk has served in the House since 2003, and seems to be on a bit of a “patriot bandwagon” as of late by looking at the current bills he has proposed and/or sponsored.
Rep. Brunk’s profile and a list of the bills he sponsors can be found at the following link: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2013_14/members/rep_brunk_steve_1/
In his testimony, Rep. Brunk praised the many non-profits that call Kansas home and noted that “The majority do a good job, but some have a great deal of taxpayer money available to them.” He believes there needs to be a “mechanism” where people can search for non-profits and their supporters because “taxpayers demand transparency and scrutiny.” With such a mechanism in place, “Citizens will have greater confidence that their taxes are being well-spent,” he said.
Following Brunk was James Franco, a representative with the conservative Kansas Policy Institute, who admitted the impetus behind the bill was a recent issue with the city of Wichita and their economic development program. “The Kansas Legislature should close the loophole so taxpayers can see how their money is spent,” Franco said.
Evidently, Wichita’s Downtown Development Corporation receives 90 percent of its revenue from taxpayer dollars, and that bothers a few folks, not just in Wichita. Here’s a link to a recent news story about the issue: http://www.kansas.com/2013/02/05/2664133/city-councilman-paul-gray-questions.html
Former Wichita city council member and current state senator Michael O’Donnell was mentioned as one of those upset individuals. The conservative O’Donnell was swept into the Kansas Senate after defeating moderate Republican Jean Schodorf in the August primary. He was not at the hearing, even though he did submit testimony. I can only hope his new position as a Senator kept him busy “putting out fires” on the east end of the Capitol building.
O’Donnell’s profile is here: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2013_14/members/sen_o_donnell_michael_1/
During Q&A, it was noted that the complete focus of this bill would be on economic development programs in Kansas, not necessarily ALL non-profit entities. Unfortunately, that’s where the hammer falls. It will affect every non-profit in the state, and it will be devastating to many of them. One legislator noted that this bill was, “like swatting a fly with a cannon,” while another said, “The net has been cast too broadly, you need to narrow it down.”
Rep. Brunk came back to the microphone and said, “We need to shine more light. We get the ‘stiff arm’ when asking for more disclosure.”
Rep. Annie Kuether, http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2013_14/members/rep_kuether_annie_1/, also noted that the bill seemed like a “wide net for a city of Wichita issue,” to which Brunk responded, “I would be shocked if there weren’t other public entities doing the same thing.”
The first opponent of the bill was Wichita city councilman Pete Meitzner. He apologized to the committee since Wichita seemed to be the “genesis” of this particular issue. He noted the value of confidentiality is essential to the survival of some entities, and that he supports transparency. “It’s vital to keeping current business, expanding business, and recruiting new business,” Meitzner said. Meitzner also noted it could affect the aviation industry negatively and would cause “self-inflicting wounds.”
Former state representative Jason Watkins now works for the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, and he noted in his testimony they recently raised $9 million for economic development programs, $2.5 million of which were public funds. He noted the devastating effects HB 2188 would have on non-profits like the YMCA, and also its personal effect, “I left the Legislature because I needed a job, and I’m not really excited about my former colleagues finding out how much I make.”
Numerous others got up to air their grievances about HB 2188 and how it would affect their respective non-profits in the meeting that last nearly two hours. We’ll keep an eye on this as it makes its way through the House Judiciary Committee, and hopefully that’s where it will stay and die.